With the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter dominating defense markets in the United States, United Kingdom, and several other NATO nations, aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin is looking abroad for buyers of its older F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Lockheed restarted its F-16 production line in Greenville, S.C., Tuesday after a major move from its historical home in Fort Worth, Texas. Lockheed secured a $1.2 billion contract to produce 16 new Block 70 versions of the aircraft for Bahrain in June, and the company hopes to sign more, despite the model being more than 40 years old.

"There is significant demand for new production F-16s and F-16V upgrades," John Losinger, a Lockheed spokesman, told the Washington Examiner. "We see F-16 production and upgrade opportunities totaling more than 200 aircraft altogether."

In addition to the Bahrain order, Lockheed signed a letter of agreement to sell new F-16s to Slovakia in December, Losinger said. Bulgaria is in the midst of negotiations with the U.S. government to acquire the new fighter, and the State Department approved a proposed sale of 25 Block 72 versions of the F-16 and F-16V upgrades to Morocco in March.

"We are also in discussions with multiple other potential customers about new production F-16s and F-16V upgrades," said Losinger.

The F-16 was introduced in 1978 as a fourth-generation air superiority fighter. There are more than 3,000 F-16s in service spread across 25 countries, according to Lockheed's figures. While the United States and some of its key allies have moved on to the fifth-generation F-35, Lockheed boldly claims new F-16s "can fly and fight to 2070 and beyond."

"Block 70 is just a phenomenal platform," said J.V. Venable, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot.

Venable spent 3,300 hours in the F-16 over his 25-year career, but the version he flew pales in comparison with the newer model. The Block 70/72 versions sport an advanced radar system, software upgrade, and a new structure that Lockheed believes will extend the aircraft's lifespan by 50 percent.

Lockheed can continue to make money on the F-16, according to Venable, but he noted the aircraft is best suited to countries that won't be facing state-of-the-art air defenses.

Business leaders in Greenville welcomed the move, seeing it as a major growth opportunity for both the city and Lockheed. Jason Zacher, senior vice president of business advocacy for the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, told the Washington Examiner he expects 150 to 200 jobs to be created to work on current orders.

"That's a significant investment around here," said Zacher.

Jody Bryson, president and CEO of the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center, said Lockheed has been a tenant of the center for 35 years but noted its operations have been cyclical.

"They would have good times and bad times," Bryson told the Washington Examiner. "[The] diversification will help them maintain a steady growth."

Lockheed just reported first-quarter earnings of $1.7 billion for 2019, about $500 million more than in the first quarter of 2018. That said, Bloomberg reported Monday that the F-35 program, already the most expensive weapons program ever, is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars more. The Pentagon expects lawmakers to question the projected increase, according to the report.